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Encrusting Gorgonian

Encrusting Polyps

Encrusting Gorgonian, Erythropodium caribaeorum, Encrusting PolypsErythropodium caribaeorumPhoto Wiki Commons, courtesy Line1.
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   The Encrusting Gorgonian is one of the easiest gorgonians to care for and will easy reproduce!

   The Encrusting Gorgonian Erythropodium caribaeorum is an attractive, robust gorgonian. It forms a smooth stolon, or mat, that is tan, cream or coffee colored. Fine long tentacles emerge from star-shaped pinholes on the surface, and they are usually cream or light brown but can have a blue or green cast to them. It is a fast growing species, rapidly spreading to encrust all hard surfaces it comes in contact with. Thus the common names Encrusting Gorgonian or Encrusting Polyps.

  The Erythropodium genus is easily confused with species from the Briareum genus like the common Encrusting Gorgonian Briareum stechei, which is another encrusting type of gorgonian. However there are some distinctions to help identify them. When the tentacles are retracted, the polyps on the Briareum species are housed in raised calyces or bumps on the surface, rather than having a smooth surface like the Erythropodium coral. The Briareum coral can also form short upright extensions, fingers, or lobes arising from the mat. These are mostly absent from the Erythropodium species.

   The Erythropodium genus is very easy to care for since they are not picky about light or water movement. They have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, and receive some of their nutrients from it. Although the Encrusting Gorgonian will do well with light, it is easier to care for because it is less demanding as far as feeding is concerned. This gorgonian can actually do fine with no feeding as long as it is in a tank with fish, otherwise it can be fed fine particle foods dispersed into the water.

   The Encrusting Gorgonian will reproduce quicker with strong light and feeding. On the flip side, you may not want them to reproduce too quickly in your tank, since they will overgrow any coral that they get close to. Placement is critical to protect other sessile animals. This is a great beginners coral and a wonderful candidate for those who want to try propagation techniques.

To learn more about these fascinating Octocorals see:
What Are Gorgonians?
Types of Gorgonians, Sea Fans and Sea Whips

Encrusting Gorgonian, pale colored, Erythropodium caribaeorum

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Captive Encrusting Gorgonian showing typical coloring

The Encrusting Gorgonian, while sometimes having a blue to green cast, is typically cream or light brown. They area easy to care for and will spread onto any surface they come in contact with. They do well with most water movement and do need light to survive and will grow quicker in strong lighting and feeding. They do not need to be fed if there are fish in the tank. Position them away from other corals, as they will overgrow them.

Scientific name    Suborder: Scleraxonia
   Family: Anthothelidae
   Species: Erythropodium caribaeorum

Distribution / Background    Gorgonian Information: The Erythropodium genus was described by Kolliker in 1865. The Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum was discovered by Duchassaing & Michelotti in 1860 and it is the only valid species in this genus. The common name it is known for is Encrusting Gorgonian or Encrusting Polyps. They have been propagated in captivity.

   Where Erythropodium Corals Are Found: The Erythropodium genus found in both the Atlantic and Pacific, although they are more common in the Atlantic.

   Erythropodium Coral Habitat: The Erythropodium genus inhabits patch reef areas, inter tidal areas, and other reef areas. They reside in areas of shallow water to mid depth water and the water flow differs in all of these areas. They grow over any coral, hard surfaces, and even rubble.

Status    The Erythropodium genus is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description    What do Erythropodium Corals look like: The Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum forms smooth mats are tan, cream, or toffee colored with tiny start shaped holes, in which the hair fine polyps reside. The polyps can fully retract and they are usually cream to light brown. The Encrusting Gorgonian does not branch upward, but can form long sweeper tentacles in strong water movement. Life span is unknown.

   Sometimes retailers tend to confuse the Erythropodium genus with the Briareum genus, but there are differences that can be seen by simple observation. The Erythropodium genus has a very smooth stolon that connects the polyps, a mat. It that does not have raised calyces, rather the polyps arise out of very small pinhole openings that are star-shaped. Their tentacles are as fine as hair. The mat, or stolon, is usually cream, coffee or tan and never deep purple like the Briareum genus. If they do end up growing over a purple gorgonian, they will still not be purple. This leads some to think their skeleton is purple, but no, it is just that what they grew over is purple.

   Classification of gorgonians in general is done by some simple visual clues such as colony size, shape, axis structure, color, polyp placement, and pattern of branches. Getting a little more technical, they also look to see if the polyp is autozooid or siphonozooid. Then there is the more exacting use of chemotaxonomy. This is being used to show the different terpenoids or other chemicals produced by each gorgonian species

Difficulty of Care    Gorgonian Care: The Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum is very easy to care for since they are not picky about light or water movement. Their tolerance of low light also makes them easier than other photosynthetic gorgonians. This Gorgonian also does fine with no feeding as long as it is in a tank with fish. This is a great beginners coral and a wonderful candidate for those who want to try propagation techniques.

   The Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum will reproduce quicker with strong light and feeding. However you may not want them to reproduce too quickly in your tank. As their name implies, they are encrusting and will overgrow any coral that they get close to. Placement is critical to protect other sessile animals.

Foods / Feeding    Gorgonian Feeding: In the wild, Erythropodium corals have developed several feeding strategies. They capture planktonic organisms and microscopic food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter. Unlike a lot of other Gorgonians, the Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum has a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.

   In captivity, the Encrusting Gorgonian does well with no feeding, as long as it is in a tank with fish. Otherwise, they can be fed Artemia nauplii, rotifers or dissolved frozen food that disperse in the water into fine particles. Strong light also makes them grow very fast.

Aquarium Care    Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Erythropodium genus. Doing water changes of 20% a month or 10% biweekly is needed, although it is suggested that doing 5% water changes once a week will replenish many of the needed additives. Iodine, calcium, strontium, and other trace elements can be added to maintain proper levels for good growth.

   Suggested levels for Erythropodium species are:

  • Calcium:  400 - 450 ppm
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 - 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 11 dKh - 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero.
  • Magnesium:  1200 - 1350 ppm.
  • Strontium:  8 - 10

Aquarium Parameters

Quick Reference Chart
Lighting: Prefers Low Lighting Levels Prefers Medium Lighting Levels Prefers High Lighting Levels
Water Flow: Prefers Low Water Flow Levels Prefers Medium Water Flow Levels Prefers High Water Flow Levels
Temperament: Peaceful Temperament Semi-Aggressive Temperament Aggressive Temperament

   A typical live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Encrusting Gorgonian, along with some fish for organic matter production. The E. caribaeorum will rapidly spread, so should be isolated in an area in the middle of the sand, away from everything. They may grow over crushed coral.

   Provide proper lighting and water movement. A strong water flow and a bright light will encourage the Encrusting Gorgonian to spread. These Octocorals are an aggressive species and can extend sweeper tentacles, so adequate space should be provided between them and other corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 10 gallon (38 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Low to high
  • Temperature: 68° - 79° F (20° - 26° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.025
  • Water Movement: All
  • Water Region: All areas of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors    The Encrusting Gorgonian is very aggressive in that it will grow over any surface it touches, although not usually sand. This hardy gorgonian will attack any encroaching coral, even if it is a new separate colony from itself. It will also extend sweeper tentacles. Make sure you isolate your Erythropodium coral in the sand where it cannot touch the rock work or any other corals. You may want to put at least 4-6" of sand between it and your rock work or any other coral.

Sex - Sexual differences    No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding and Reproduction   The Erythropodium genus can reproduce by fission and budding. They may also spawn like other gorgonians for sexual reproduction.

  Propagation is usually done with incising. Taking a razor blade or scalpel, cut into the colony 1/2 way. Try to do this in one pass, since multiple cuts will lead to infection. The goal is to keep the colony attached at least 1/2 way for now. They make a lot of mucus, so this helps to keep it from gooing up everything. This way also encourages it to grow onto a new surface. This is the safest and least intrusive way of helping the colony bud off and increase growth. Placing the cut colony over loose rubble is a great way to propagate frags, since it has the ability to grow over uneven surfaces. Keep separate colonies away from each other since the Erythropodium genus will attack its own offspring once it has been severed. This is another reason to only incise. It keeps everyone happy and connected. Cutting off what you want to sell or give away is fine.

Potential Problems   The Erythropodium genus is hardy and very easy to care for. If your gorgonian does get a bacterial infection, you can cut off the bad part, and the rest will tend to recover.

Availability    Gorgonians for Sale: The Encrusting Gorgonian E. caribaeorum is easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $49.00 USD or more, depending on size and/or color.


Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CRS
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